Fassbender ponders NWSS numbers

John Gaiptman joined the New Westminster School District in February, after retiring from his job at the helm of the Greater Victoria School District. - Grant Granger/NewsLeader
John Gaiptman joined the New Westminster School District in February, after retiring from his job at the helm of the Greater Victoria School District.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

The high cost of dealing with soil conditions and site issues has the province hesitating on approving replacement of New Westminster secondary.

And that has the district's parent advisory council (DPAC) worried.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender acknowledged the project was complicated and expensive when he met with district officials last week. The ministry and district have agreed the replacement will be for 1,900 students. Schools project manager Jim Alkins said the ministry has a formula to determine capital project funds based on the student numbers.

The district told Fassbender how much it expects dealing with soil remediation and an old cemetery on the site will cost. That will drive the price tag above the formula, admitted Alkins. Unanticipated work uncovered once shovels go in the ground could drive it even higher.

After hearing the numbers, district superintendent/CEO John Gaiptman said Fassbender wanted to consult with his director of capital projects before making a final decision.

"We don't know exactly what's in the ground, and we won't know until we really get into the building," said Gaiptman. "We can do samples but we're never going to be 100 per cent sure of what we're going to see. He understands that … It's a substantial cost."

Gaiptman said the possibility the province would pull the plug on the project was not raised.

"He never talked in that way at all. He was aware of the project, he understood it," said Gaiptman. "One of the things that we tried to make clear is we've done the complicated work. It's complete. We believe the only thing we need is the funding. Release the funding and we're ready to go."

On Monday, DPAC approved a resolution from former chair Paul Johansen asking the province to make the project a priority and to give it immediate approval.

He's worried a recent court ruling favouring teachers and the threat of job action will scuttle the replacement.

"If this was going ahead Gaiptman wouldn't have said what he said," said Johansen referring to Fassbender's decision to consult with the ministry's capital projects director. "We've been waiting 14 years for this. All of the ducks have been lined up for this."

Johansen pointed out it was the ministry that asked for the trench work to be done. "How do you do what they ask when they don't release the money," he said. "It was the Ministry of Education that funded and approved a high school to be built on a cemetery. It is not the kids' fault."

DPAC will ask the city to endorse its resolution.

"The more pressure we can put on the ministry from everywhere the better," Johansen said.

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